Ode to my Dad, Rick Keeling

A shout out to my dad, a ski enthusiast and the life of the party.  He died on June 13 and we sent him off in huge style from Castle Hill village.  This is from my Chill blog:

Ode to my Father (Rick Keeling)

In 1986 (God, 30 years ago?), I was heading to school one spring morning.  My dad was on the phone making rallying calls (exhortative calls) to supporters urging them to buy into the ailing Porter Heights after several marginal seasons.  There was a triumphant shout from my old adventure racing team mate, Sandy Sandblom:  “I’m in!”  Rick gathered a crew and the place was rescued from closure.  It was the ultimate sacrifice really.  Not only did my parents lose a bunch of money (that was ok because they loved the place and my dad thought making and losing money was just a game) but my brother, Adrian died there on June 19 1994 in an earthquake that astonishingly triggered an avalanche that hit the groomer he was driving, and flipped it.

My dad died on June 13 this year after a long but good fight with Parkinsons and associated dementia.  He still sparked, his wit remained but he became increasingly confused and less mobile in recent years.  Last season my husband Scott Simper, took him up to Porters to ride the Easy Rider chairlift and see recent developments on the ski area.  Inspired, my dad then commanded Scott to take him skiing.  I showed a complete lack of faith in this project and refused to have anything to do with it except watch.  Scott is a methodical man with excellent patience.  He coaxed Rick into his ski boots, got him onto his skis and they rode the platter lift.  My dad skied as he always had – slightly in the back seat (he hated me calling him on this but it was true – he rode the back seat but I reckon he did it because he enjoyed the rush of speed it’d give him).  He made three successful runs on the platter, accompanied by his men-in-black and urged on by a group of lady admirers on the sidelines (myself included).  We then took him to the cafe for a coffee and he announced his official retirement from skiing.

At my dad’s life celebration, there was a big crowd of Porters people.  Uli spoke.  I spoke to or received messages from ex Porters ski club members, half of the Porters staff were there, and many old staff from Springfield, including several who were great friends of Adrian. Many acknowledged that they had jobs or great holidays and memories because of my dad and his optimism and passion for Porters and skiing.  The guy went for it.

In 2013 as part of my ski column for the Christchurch Press, I interviewed Stu from Chill about his vision for the Chill pass twenty years ago.  Initially Stu’s idea met a chilly (sorry – pun so unintended!) reception from ski areas.  When I asked him who made the leap of faith, Stu told me “it was actually your father.”  My dad was an ideas man and he liked people with ideas – especially those who could follow the ideas through!  So years down the track, now that I’ve returned to the Craigieburns, there’s a real satisfaction in joining forces with Chill, working with the Craigieburn ski areas and carrying on the type of vision my Dad had.  Of course, Rick was all about lift expansion and I’m all about lung expansion and linking the ski areas by good, honest hiking – but we are kind of the same (although I’m less cavalier with money).

Rick Keeling was a good man, kind of brash and direct but generous, with a total lack of self-consciousness.  One friend recounted the time he rallied a big posse to ski Bluff face with him.  She joined nervously, linking hesitant tele turns down the big face.  My dad yelled encouragement to her, leading the fray in his mad and heinously awful Union Jack jacket, charging the slope in his oh-so-slightly unorthodox style.  It wasn’t uncommon for him to shout to people to let him ski first or they wouldn’t be allowed to ski at Porters anymore.  I used to die of embarrassment but now I’m proud.  He was a crazy visionary, the life of the party and a character with a capital C.

Throw some turns down for him this season….


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